In one scene in the new social-media-missing-child thriller Searching, John Cho asks “What is Tumblr?” Some parents will relate to this, and keenly feel the sting of the digital-generation gap between themselves and their teen or pre-teen kids. But, as Searching makes headlines as one of the best thrillers of the year, there’s a more pressing question for parents: Should you bother to spend your date night seeing this movie? In other words, who is the real audience for this film?
Searching — out in wide release last weekend — already has a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is being praised as one the best horror films of the past year. It pushes the envelope for what “found footage” can do in a thriller, and is truly gripping. Plus, John Cho is great in it. But, that doesn’t change one huge truth. The movie isn’t really for parents. In fact, the idea that parents need or want to see movies about parents dealing with traumatic things involving their children highlights a bizarre phenomenon among films and TV both indie and mainstream: the notion that parents crave entertainment that is about parenting might not be true.
I might not speak for all parents when I say this, but the idea that John Cho is a badass dad in Searching is great, but the fact that the movie is about him being a dad trying to find his missing daughter isn’t really appealing. When I watch a movie, I want a break from worrying about my 15-month-old daughter, not a reminder of the “digital hellscape” waiting just beyond the computer screen. If I want to watch John Cho as a badass dad, I’ll probably watch Star Trek Beyond again. And I’d venture to guess most dads (and many moms) are like me, people who want to spend their precious movie time not thinking about their kids.
In chatting with several other parents about this phenomenon, one idea was reinforced over and over again, the idea that parents don’t really feel like watching heavy movies about parenting in their free time. One father told me that worrying about his kids was “a daily meditation,” but he’d “rather be taken somewhere else” when watching a movie or TV series on his downtime.
Important and critically acclaimed films like Eighth Grade or We the Animals might be great conversation-starters at dinner parties with your friends who listen to NPR, but more often than not, parents feel guilty watching Arrested Development again on Netflix rather than a serious movie involving parents and their kids. A film like the John Cena-comedy Blockers sits in a weird middle-ground of this because it’s basically the comedy version of Searching. Both movies involve parents trying to stalk their kids online, but one is “important” while the other one is mostly a “joke.” And, most parents would rather watch the funny version.
This isn’t to say some parents won’t love the innovative thriller aspects of Searching. If you’re interested in thrillers or the direction of digital filmmaking in general, there’s a lot to like about this movie, even if its various twists and turns to border on implausible.
And yet, no parent should feel guilty if they don’t want to see Searching because of its premise. In fact, if you’ve got free time and you and your partner want to watch something, you should choose the movie or TV show that makes you the happiest. Searching may be the edgy movie of the moment, but the parents can skip it — or any other triggering movie — and feel just fine about that fact. Plus, let’s face it, most parents know what Tumblr is these days anyway.
Searching is out now in wide release